Biochar bites back! Ancient carbon removal technology returns

by HUSK Writer Abi Siri Andersen

The problem

Forged in the hearts of dying stars, carbon is the foundation of life on earth. We simply cannot live without it. But our interference in the natural carbon cycle is a huge problem. The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a volatile gas that contributes to global warming. At the same time, deforestation has reduced nature’s ability to ‘sink carbon’. The combination of these two phenomena has accelerated climate change.

The solution

Reducing carbon emissions is by far the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gases. But, if the world is to stay below 1.5 degrees of global warming, emissions reduction is only part of the complex puzzle we have to solve. CO2 must also be removed from our atmosphere.

We need to find ways to capture and store CO2. We need carbon removal technologies. We need to create carbon sinks.

HUSK sinks carbon and you can support us here today!

What is a carbon sink?

In nature, carbon is exchanged between the atmosphere, the ocean and land mass. Creating a carbon sink means transforming carbon into a stable form, rather than allowing it to be released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Forests do this. Everyone knows that. But did you know that biochar does it too?

Biochar is a carbon removal technology that many people are just not yet aware of. Along with planting trees, it is a nature-based, scalable and scientifically proven way of sinking carbon. Figures from the World Economic Forum estimate that biochar could remove up to 5 gigatons (that’s 5 billion metric tonnes) of CO2 equivalent by 2050. Reforestation is estimated to remove up to 10 gigatons. According to the IPCC and World Resources Institute we need to have 50 gigatons less CO2 in the atmosphere by 2050 to stay within the 1.5 degree limit. So biochar has a significant role to play in this journey.

What is biochar?

Biochar is a stable, plant-based, carbon-rich form of charcoal. When added to soil it acts like a sponge, increasing water and nutrient retention, as well as providing a home for the microorganisms essential for plant life.

Biochar is made through pyrolysis technology, a process where biomass (in our case rice husk) is heated at temperatures greater than 250°C with little or no oxygen. Normally rice husk would either decompose or be burned, both releasing CO2.

The pyrolysis process traps the carbon in the husk, transforming it into a steady state. We are left with a pure form of carbon that, according to the IPCC, stays in the soil for at least 100 years, because it’s far too tough for even the strongest microorganisms to digest.

We use IPCC methodologies for our carbon removal credits.

Who came up with the idea?

Several ancient civilizations, including pre-Amazonic communities in Brazil, understood the benefits of biochar. The earliest evidence of terra preta, or ‘black soil’, dates back millenia. Terra preta is made up of charcoal, bone, broken pottery, compost and manure. The carbon in the charcoal gave the soil structure, turning poor soil into a rich, fertile ecosystem for plant life.

What does biochar do to the soil?

When you add biochar to soil, you change its structure, creating space for nutrients, air and water. As described by Albert Bates, author of Burn: Using Fire to Cool the Earth with Kathleen Draper, and advisor to HUSK, biochar is “a coral reef for the soil”, providing a home for the essential funghi, bacteria and microorganisms essential for plant life.

Instead of the usual practice of mining coal and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, Albert goes on to describe biochar production as: “mining the sky… putting the coal in the ground – running the process in reverse.”

The nitty gritty: how does HUSK biochar sink carbon?
How do we calculate how much carbon we sink? 

At HUSK, we sequester 1.33 tonnes of carbon for every tonne of biochar produced. Our calculations are based on recognised IPCC methodologies which take into consideration that 80% of the biochar remains in the soil for a minimum of 100 years, as around 0.2% is lost every year.  We also take into consideration the fuel used in the setup phase of our production process.

While we sink carbon in Cambodia, individuals and companies anywhere in the world can compensate for the carbon they have emitted over their lifetime by purchasing HUSK Carbon Removal Credits here.

Why choose HUSK biochar to remove your carbon? 

  • We make biochar products affordable and widely accessible for smallholder farmers, increasing their yields, and revenues by up to 25%.
  • We monitor the impact of our biochar using recognised international methodologies.
  • We use rice husk – an agricultural byproduct that would otherwise be burned or decompose (both releasing CO2 into the atmosphere).
  • No trees were harmed in the making of this biochar!

Purchasing HUSK carbon removal credits is a way to make your credits work 4 times as hard, thanks to the following co-benefits. Not only is our biochar made from a waste product, but it also regenerates soil and improves the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Cambodia. That’s 4 birds with one stone! 

Our long term goal is to sequester 1 million tonnes of CO2, along with our partners, by 2035. There are 150 million tonnes of rice husk produced in the world annually. If we can turn just 0.1% of this into biochar every year for the next 15 years, we could reach this goal.  

Find out more about our journey here.

The role of businesses and individuals 

Consumers are increasingly turning towards brands that align with their core values and beliefs. This means there is increasing demand for companies to set and achieve science based targets for tackling climate change. And it’s not just companies who are measuring their carbon footprints and setting themselves reduction targets. Individuals are also taking action. An exponentially increasing number are using voluntary carbon markets to achieve net reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2017 Statista figures show that the average per capita CO2 emissions ranged from 1.61 metric tons in India to 30.37 in Qatar. Those in the US averaged 14.61, while in the UK it was 5.43. That’s the number of metric tons of CO2 that we, as individuals, are putting into the atmosphere every year.

So aside from the obvious winning solution – cutting our own carbon emissions – biochar now offers, in the words of Kathleen Draper, a “safe, sustainable and shovel-ready” alternative for carbon sequestration.

Sink your carbon now! 

If you want to be a part of the biochar solution, you can invest in HUSK through our partners at My Carbon Zero. For just 32€, you will help to create 750kg of HUSK organic biochar, which will remove 1 tonne of carbon from the atmosphere and improve 1,000 m2 of soil in Cambodia. 

For 160€ you could balance out one year of your own CO2 emissions (5.4 tonnes if you live in the UK) and help to improve 5,000m2 of land, half of the average plot of a Cambodian smallholder farmer.  Investing 1,000€ would help regenerate 3 hectares of land and increase the incomes for 2 farming households by up to 25%.

HUSK Carbon Removal Credits are a simple and meaningful way to take action against climate change today, join us to sink your carbon now!

HUSK biochar: trials show significant increase in crop yields and farmers’ income

by HUSK Writer Abi Siri Andersen

At the start of 2019 around 50% of fresh fruit and vegetables consumed in Cambodia were being imported from Thailand, Vietnam and China. That’s a market worth €180 million a year and a great deal of potential income that local smallholder horticulture farmers had zero access to.

Most fruit and veg farmers in Cambodia grow on plots of land measuring just over half a hectare. They simply do not produce enough fresh produce to cater to the growing demand. At the same time, over 40% of rural communities suffer from a lack of access to affordable, nutritious food.

Latest ADB figures point to 12.9% of Cambodians living under the national poverty line and around 90% of those people living in rural areas. Now, more than ever, there is a call for more homegrown produce to increase the country’s food security and improve the livelihoods of smallholder fruit and veg farmers.

One of the reasons these farmers are not able to compete effectively is a lack of access to affordable horticultural inputs such as fertilisers and soil improvement products. That’s where HUSK comes in. In 2019, Dutch international development organisation SNV used 8 tonnes of our HUSK organic biochar in field trials on 14 farms across Cambodia.

The trials ran throughout 2019, over both wet and dry seasons. The farmers themselves and SNV technicians measured the increase in marketable yields, testing out the effects of biochar on a variety of crops, including egg plant, choy sum, cucumber, watermelon, yardlong bean and onion leaf.

The results were impressive: crops where biochar was introduced showed an average yield increase of 29%.

HUSK has also partnered with FAEC, a national Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives, APPSEA, an organisation promoting sustainable agriculture practices across the country and the international NGO iDE and we have run 6 more trials across the provinces Battambang, Kandal and Takeo. On 2 of these, the crops enriched with biochar provided more than a dollar of extra income per m2, a significant increase for those farmers who earn an average of less than $5 a day.

Tek Sopath, natural farmer, Kandal, Cambodia: “Í used to water my seedlings 3 times per day, with HUSK biochar I just water once.”

As the results demonstrate, we are making surprisingly big steps in the right direction, but this is by no means the end of the story. At HUSK, our aim is to increase not only crop yields but also farmers’ income, providing food security and long-term sustainable livelihoods for smallholder fruit and veg farmers and their families.

Research and development is part of our DNA and we continue to monitor our impact across Cambodia in line with our theory of change, which is to build soil, sink carbon and improve lives.

Our next trials are with the organic, fair trade pepper cooperative Farmlink in Kampot and Harvest 2, a project funded by USAID and involving 200 farmers in Battambang province.

Stay tuned to our Twitter account for updates.